17/12/20 // Written by AmbaWilkes

A Look Back At Digital Marketing In 2020

When we entered 2020, many digital predictions were made for the year ahead. Little did we know the world was about to be shook by a global pandemic that would send shockwaves through the way we live.

The importance of digital at this time has been widely recognised and much discussed. But how has digital marketing changed? What emerging trends took a back seat and what became increasingly important to businesses and consumers alike?

In this blog, we take stock of digital marketing in 2020 and how it stacked up against our predictions…

What were our 2020 trend predictions?

1) SERP position zero

Position zero, also known as a featured snippet, refers to the very first Google search result that appear above organic listings. The feature was created to answer a user’s question without them having to click away from the SERPs.

One of the benefits of being in position zero was that your website showed twice on the search results – once in the featured snippet and once in the first page of organic listings – giving you a higher chance of users clicking through to your site. However, soon after we made this prediction, Google announced a significant change in January which prevented position zero listings being repeated on the SERPs.

Other than this update, how has position zero been affected in 2020? This year has been filled with uncertainty which has caused a rise in the questions users want answering. Often turning to Google for guidance, we have seen an increase in questions around business loans, travel policies and restrictions, property advice and financial concerns to name just a few, making position zero even more prevalent for businesses within Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sectors.

We believe featured snippets remain important to quick answer user intent, providing credible and fast answers when searchers need it most.

2) Voice search

With the growing use of mobile phones combined with Google’s ongoing effort to provide a faster user experience, voice search has been steadily growing in popularity. Around 3.25 billion people currently use voice-activated search assistants worldwide with this figure expected to rise to 8 billion people by 2023.

However, it was reported that 53 percent of people use voice search while driving and 40 percent of people use it to ask for directions. Due to nationwide and rolling regional restrictions, how voice search has been used could have been heavily impacted as driving became a less frequent activity this year.  

Confined to our homes, the use of voice search has predominantly shifted to voice activated home assistants instead. Whether it’s asking about the weather, requesting music or checking the news, AI powered voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant are becoming more advanced at answering user intent in a timely and accurate manner.

Voice has the potential to change how people interact with technology and online search by increasing the amount we talk to our digital devices making it a powerful marketing trend that doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon.

3) Social commerce

As we predicted, social commerce has been a prevalent part of digital marketing in 2020. Blurring the lines between social media and eCommerce, this trend involves the entire shopping experience – from product discovery to research to checkout  – taking place within the social media platform.

As more social channels such as Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook release and improve shopping functionalities, it’s no surprise social commerce has gone from strength to strength this year. Further on in this blog, we’ll discuss how this year’s events have accelerated the development of social commerce two-fold.

4) Visual content

More than 91 percent of users agree visual content creates an inspiring digital experience, enhancing product discoverability and making brand interactions more engaging. Adding infographics, images and video to written content and across social media helps users better remember your brand and what you do.

With more people than ever before spending time online and on social media, alongside the rise in popularity of image-led platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, visual content has made its mark on the digital landscape this year, but more on this later!

5) Personalisation

Personalised marketing creates real and memorable connections between your brand and audience. Combining AI with customer intelligence and insights from across your marketing channels can help you target shoppers on a more granular level.

Personalisation has certainly remained an advantage to brands this year and grown in importance across eCommerce in particular. However, when the pandemic hit and the majority of the world was placed into lockdown, we saw personalisation take a back seat as brands had to focus simply on meeting a huge rise in demand for certain products. From toilet roll to pasta and everything in between, all frills, including brand loyalty and personal interactions, became less important as customers strived to get their hands-on essential items.

What else was king in 2020?

This year, eCommerce has developed at a faster rate than ever before. Global internet traffic grew by 30 percent YOY and more than 346 million people came online for the first time.

With such significant change in a short time, customer behaviour has unsurprisingly evolved quickly causing businesses to scramble as they try to adapt. So, what other trends have emerged to shape 2020’s digital marketing landscape?

Data matters

If this year has shown us anything, it’s that understanding exactly who your audience are and what they want is fundamental. In a rush to adapt and continue serving online audiences, many businesses were forced to reassess their marketing plans and much of what they knew about their customers. With no room for assumptions, data became even more integral to business success. Businesses needed to understand how customers were reacting to the pandemic, where they were interacting and what they expected so that plans could be adjusted accordingly.  

Alongside this, to counteract the uncertainty, many companies tightened their budgets and further pressure was put on ensuring the best ROI possible. Those who leveraged their data, putting it into action with the support of machine learning and smart bidding strategies, were able to generate even deeper relationships with their audience which are set to last beyond a COVID stricken world.

Earlier this year, Dan Saunders, Performance Marketing Manager at Ingenuity Digital, commented on the importance of data…

Really getting to grips with who your audience are by collating customer data and leveraging this to its full potential can impact your bottom-line.”

And this has definitely held true this year. In digital marketing, everything is connected which means you can gather data at each touchpoint with your customers. Using this valuable insight, effective strategies can be formed to gain and retain your target audience.

No matter what industry you’re in, mastering data collection and applying it to your marketing will help you thrive – even in a pandemic! If you want to learn more about how data can cut costs and improve your digital marketing, we wrote a whole blog on the topic.

Social media triumphs

At the start of 2020, we presumed it would be like any other year. But as the pandemic took over at a global scale, all aspects of business were affected. Campaigns were put on hold or dramatically altered, budgets were reviewed, and social media usage saw a staggering rise. 

Today’s and tomorrow’s consumers are online, and they want connection with their favourite brands. One of the best ways to do this is via social media platforms. This year, social media users have grown by more than 10 percent taking the global total to nearly 4 billion users – that means there are now more people using social media around the world than those who are not.

In line with the abrupt changes to our lifestyles, we saw an increase in mobile phone and social media usage as users searched for engaging content to keep them busy and entertained. In fact, people spent more time than ever before scrolling through their feeds with usage hitting an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes a day.

Creating a safe haven, consumers used social channels as a way of maintaining a sense of community while staying updated on global news. Instead of hiding in a  corner, businesses were expected to re-think the content they were creating, ensuring it was valuable, conscious and in tune with what the audience wanted. 

Maintaining this communication between your brand and your audience during such an unsettling time became hugely important. Those who recognised more people were logging on to stay connected delivered content that provided real value to their lives and in turn saw their audience turn to them for their shopping needs.

Visual content

Last year, we anticipated that visual content would emerge as a leading trend in 2020. A powerful element of your content strategy, visual content only became more effective as bricks-and-mortar stores temporarily closed their doors. Unable to enjoy a physical shopping experience, users moved online for inspiration.   

Leveraging visual content across social media and websites can have a significant impact on a consumer’s research phase. While browsing social media, users may not be ready to convert right there and then, but they are in an inspiration mindset ready to be entertained and engaged. Visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest are perfect for leveraging this interest, offering relevant content and inspiring images to engage users while they discover new brands and products.

As social interaction has risen, so too has influencer marketing with businesses using this tactic to create memorable bonds with their audience. However, product and service endorsements are always more powerful when the promoter is a genuine fan of the brand. As a result, nano-influencers in particular have grown in popularity as customers seek authenticity from the brands they shop with.

These influencers are everyday people with an average follower count of 1,000 – 10,000 who work to create relatable and curated content that is more trustworthy to their audience. In tune with their followers, nano-influencers are able to engage 8.7 percent of their Instagram following – significantly higher than the 1.7 percent that celebrity influencers do.

Social commerce

Social media can positively impact your brand in many ways such as increasing brand awareness, building a loyal following and creating an online community. But one element of social media that we predicted to experience large growth this year was social commerce.

With potential shoppers already spending a great deal of time on these social platforms, it’s no surprise that various channels including Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook have improved their shopping functionality to offer native experiences within the app. Branded by some as the ‘future of selling online’, social commerce allows you to click shoppable images on social media feeds and purchase the product right there in the app.

With 60 percent of people saying they discover new products on social channels such as Instagram, brands have the opportunity to share their products with a large network of engaged browsers. Streamlining the customer journey, social commerce has increased the ease of purchase for users allowing them to go from inspiration to conversion fast and with minimal touchpoints.

A recent survey found that social commerce still needs some time to gain traction as consumers get used to completing their purchase within social media apps. This opens the door to significant opportunity for brands to combine the power of social media with the ease of eCommerce to reach and convert shoppers through a frictionless shopping experience. 

As mobile commerce and omnichannel commerce reach new heights this year, businesses are under increasing pressure to streamline their offering across their multiple channels. Social commerce forms an important part of an eCommerce businesses overall digital marketing strategy and is a trend we only see growing as influencer marketing and social media usage continue to rise.

Social proof

Due to this year’s circumstances, customers were forced online and had to trust brands that, in some cases, they had never shopped with or heard of before. It’s human nature to seek validation based on what others do before making a decision. As such, when physical shopping experiences were taken away from us, customers turned to social media and other people’s experiences with a brand to influence their actions, creating a huge rise in the need for social proof.

To generate trust and credibility among shoppers, businesses used social proof to help consumers validate a purchase by sharing organic and unvarnished experiences from their existing customers.

With more people stuck at home, the want for human connection grew and with it the production of user generated content (UGC). It was quickly recognised that in times of uncertainty, customers crave genuine and real interactions with the brands they love most. Demand for digital content became higher than ever before, and brands needed to embrace their human element to showcase authenticity among their followers.

Creating a new-found trust between consumers and brands, social proof is a sustainable and cost-effective source of content that has become a prevailing trend of 2020 and will likely continue to dominate in a post-COVID world.

Empathetic marketing

Whether you were directly or indirectly impacted, the outbreak affected everyone in one way or another. Some lost their jobs, some are caring for loved ones, many are working on the front line or may be vulnerable themselves.

Living through a situation none of us have ever experienced made it difficult for brands to know what to say and how to act. However, certain factors of communication remain the same no matter the circumstances – staying true to your values and your audience. It was reported that 79 percent of UK customers want brands to show that they care during the height of the pandemic, expressing empathy for those effected and being transparent with their communications.

The human element of your brand became the most important factor of all to genuinely engage with your audience and offer compassion. As such, empathetic marketing and real authentic interactions reigned supreme this year with brands rightly shifting their focus to emotion over conversion. No matter how much time and effort you invest in social media algorithms, optimisation practices or new digital marketing tools, if you can’t empathise with your audience, you will never truly be able to give them what they need.

Genuinely caring is often the most undervalued strategy. Empathy is all about showing your audience you understand what they are going through and making your marketing meaningful.

What’s in store for 2021?

Your customers’ behaviour has changed more this year than any other and these changes are likely to continue evolving. While we did not predict a global pandemic, a number of the trends we did predict for 2020 have still proven true, supported by faster emerging trends such as social commerce and empathetic marketing.

This year has shown us that we don’t turn to digital to simply avoid physical connections. We turn to digital to gain a connection. It’s clear that maintaining and promoting the human element of your brand should be paramount to your marketing strategy. But pandemic or no pandemic, remaining authentic isn’t a trend – it’s a lasting shift in digital marketing. The world is changing, and brands need to change with it in order to continue building trust and loyalty among consumers and followers.

As always, we’re interested in hearing from you. Get in touch with our team of marketing experts to discuss how 2020 has shaped up for your business and what tactics you will be deploying next year.